Thermoplastics can be remelted and reused, and thermoset plastics can be ground up and used as filler, although the purity of the material tends to degrade with each reuse cycle. There are methods by which plastics can be broken down to a feedstock state.
The greatest challenge to the recycling of plastics is the difficulty of automating the sorting of plastic wastes, making it labor-intensive. Typically, workers sort the plastic by looking at the resin identification code, although common containers like soda bottles can be sorted from memory. Typically, the caps for PETE bottles are made from a different kind of plastic which is not recyclable, which presents additional problems for the sorting process. Other recyclable materials such as metals are easier to process mechanically. However, new processes of mechanical sorting are being developed to increase the capacity and efficiency of plastic recycling.
While containers are usually made from a single type and color of plastic, making them relatively easy to sort, a consumer product like a cellular phone may have many small parts consisting of over a dozen different types and colors of plastics. In such cases, the resources it would take to separate the plastics far exceed their value and the item is discarded. However, developments are taking place in the field of active disassembly, which may result in more product components being reused or recycled. Recycling certain types of plastics can be unprofitable as well. For example, polystyrene is rarely recycled because the process is usually not cost effective. These unrecycled wastes are typically disposed of in landfills, incinerated or used to produce electricity at waste-to-energy plants.
An early success in the recycling of plastics is Vinyloop, an industrial process to separate PVC from other materials through dissolution, filtration and separation of contaminants. A solvent is used in a closed loop to elute PVC from the waste. This makes it possible to recycle composite PVC waste, which is normally incinerated or put in a landfill. Vinyloop-based recycled PVC's primary energy demand is 46 percent lower than conventionally produced PVC. The global warming potential is 39 percent lower. This is why the use of recycled material leads to a significantly better ecological outcome. This process was used after the Olympic Games in London 2012. Parts of temporary Buildings like the Water Polo Arena and the Royal Artillery Barracks were recycled. In this way, the PVC Policy could be fulfilled, which says that no PVC waste should be left after the games had ended.